When Oscar's Best Picture Really Isn't (And Why) When great movies are ignored by the Motion Picture Academy, the reasons are often institutional. Check Back Sunday: Our live coverage includes Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! goes Hollywood, plus play-by-play coverage from Linda Holmes & friends.
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When Oscar's Best Picture Really Isn't (And Why)

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When Oscar's Best Picture Really Isn't (And Why)

When Oscar's Best Picture Really Isn't (And Why)

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GUY RAZ, host:

The red carpet is rolling out as we speak in Hollywood ahead of tomorrow night's 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

(Soundbite of movie, "Singin' in the Rain")

Mr. GENE KELLY (Actor): (Singing) I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain.

(Soundbite of movie, "Psycho")

(Soundbite of screaming)

(Soundbite of movie, "Some Like It Hot")

Mr. JACK LEMMON (Actor): (As Daphne) Osgood, I'm going to level with you. We can't get married at all.

Mr. JOE E. BROWN (Actor): (As Osgood Fielding III) Why not?

Mr. LEMMON: (As Daphne) I'm a man.

Mr. BROWN: (As Osgood Fielding III) Well, nobody is perfect.

(Soundbite of movie, "Spartacus")

Unidentified Man #1: I'm Spartacus.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm Spartacus.

Unidentified Man #3: I'm Spartacus.

Unidentified Man #4: I'm Spartacus.

Unidentified Man #5: I'm Spartacus.

RAZ: I'm Spartacus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's "Spartacus," "Some Like It Hot," "Psycho" and "Singin' in the Rain," four classic films.

Bob Mondello, what do all those movies have in common?

BOB MONDELLO: Not one of them was nominated for Best Picture.

RAZ: Not one?

MONDELLO: Not one.

RAZ: That's NPR's film critic Bob Mondello in the studio with me. And we asked him to come by because we were wondering why some classic films get neglected by the Academy. Bob, good to have you back.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

RAZ: Okay. So, we just heard clips from these films that I think most people would say, you know, are among the most recognizable of their eras. And you have a whole list here of other movies that have been neglected.

MONDELLO: I do, just listen to this. These are pictures that were not nominated for Best Picture: "Vertigo," "Rear Window," "North by Northwest."

RAZ: "Vertigo," "Rear Window" - all films by Alfred Hitchcock.

MONDELLO: Right. And they must have it in for him.

RAZ: And these are, like, the first films that film students study.

MONDELLO: Yes. He, number one, is a director. One of his pictures did win Best Picture - it was "Rebecca." But that award went to the producer, David O. Selznick.

Anywhere, here's a couple of others: "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Dirty Dozen," "Last Tango in Paris," "Serpico," "Rebel Without a Cause."

RAZ: Bob, I'm shocked.


RAZ: None of those movies were nominated for Best Picture?

MONDELLO: Not one. I think it's really egregious. You would think that something fabulous would've bumped them out. "The Dirty Dozen" was bumped by Rex Harrison riding a pink snail in "Dr. Doolittle." "Last Tango in Paris" and "Serpico" were bumped by a picture that nobody really remembers anymore called "A Touch of Class."

RAZ: Never heard of it.

MONDELLO: Yeah. It's like a nothing little comedy.

RAZ: It sounds like a flower shop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, that's fair. But the most egregious example of all is that "Oliver" won for Best Picture in 1968.

RAZ: That's a musical.

MONDELLO: Yes, and it was a perfectly sweet musical but kind of okay. And what was not nominated that year was "2001: A Space Odyssey."

RAZ: Wow.

MONDELLO: Arguably one of the great pictures ever.

RAZ: So, how is it that films that we now consider essential, classics, you know, get left out?

MONDELLO: Well, frequently, in the case of something like "Last Tango" or "Serpico" or something like that, the Academy tends to shy away from things that are either overtly sexual or are really violent.

RAZ: Which is why "Last Tango in Paris" wasn't nominated. Films like "Pulp Fiction" even?


RAZ: Because that was nominated.

MONDELLO: That got nominated but it didn't win.

RAZ: Right.

MONDELLO: And I think those kinds of pictures have a problem just sort of generally, and that's because the folks who are voting for these tend to be a good deal older than the general public. I mean, movies are made for 18 to 26-year-olds basically. That's the prime audience. The people voting for the Oscars include Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Kirk Douglas.

I mean, this is not to say that they aren't forward thinking and fabulous and youthful at heart, but they're not the same as the audience.

RAZ: And Bob you're mentioning, obviously, a lot of actors, and actors presumably make up a pretty big segment of the people who vote.

MONDELLO: Yes, this is true. There are many more actors than there are directors, and because they're the biggest chunk of the Academy, they also wield a lot of influence. And they in fact tend to go for actor's pictures. You'll see something like "Kramer vs. Kramer" gets a nod over "Apocalypse Now," because "Apocalypse Now" is a director's picture. It's Francis Ford Coppola showing off and it's fabulous and all that kind of thing. But "Kramer vs. Kramer" is a sort of a domestic drama that shows off actors and actors get into that a lot.

RAZ: And then "Raging Bull," which is, again, considered a classic, lost to "Ordinary People."

MONDELLO: Exactly. It's exactly the same kind of thing. And "Ordinary People" is a good picture, right?

RAZ: Yeah.

MONDELLO: But it doesn't really hold up the way that "Raging Bull" does. "Raging Bull was regarded as one of the great pictures of that decade.

RAZ: So if it favors actor's films, does this suggest that a movie like "The Hurt Locker" might win tomorrow night versus, you know, a sweeping huge director's film like "Avatar"?

MONDELLO: It does in fact suggest that. "Avatar" is a big splashy picture. But I tell you, if I were an actor and I were looking at "Avatar," I would realize how unimportant I was to that, because me with a blue tail and nine feet tall and an elongated face, not quite the same as...

RAZ: You'd get a lot of attention in the building.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, that's true.

RAZ: That's NPR film critic Bob Mondello. Bob, thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

RAZ: And we'd like to hear from you. What do you think were the least deserved Oscar wins in history and who got snubbed? Join the conversation at npr.org.

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